On March 24th, the councillors of the LYAC met with representatives of the King’s University College Student’s Council in a small, but bright and clean meeting room. The purpose of this meeting was to compare and contrast their respective councils, essentially learning from one another. For example, learning more about other groups with goals of representing the youth voice in a specific community. The meeting started with a round of introductions from the group. Introductions always seem to make the room more comfortable – and was this room comfortable. King’s University College has relatively new, beautiful Student Life Center. After everyone established who they were, and why they were there, the meeting began.
Who Should Read This?
Members of the LYAC and KUCSC who are interested in the work done by other youth councils
King’s students who want to learn more about their student representatives
London youth and King’s students who are interested in running for the LYAC or the KUCSC, or both
KUCSC vs. LYAC: Council Structure
The representative from the KUCSC, who was actually the CEO/President explained the council’s structure to the group. First, the KUCSC is a corporation credited through the not for profit act. Underneath his role as the CEO and President are executives with varying responsibilities. Below that are commissioners, and coordinators. Essentially, there are several different positions under different portfolios within the KUCSC structure.
These different, specified positions allow for attention to be given to individual areas of the King’s community. This is true for things like pre-planned, yearly events. For example, Relay For Life Commissioners are set-up within the KUCSC to plan that event every year.
Likewise, the council allows for students to come to them with ideas for clubs, committees and groups they feel would benefit King’s. A few years back for instance, one student came to the council with an idea for a bike service for the school. The student was extremely passionate about this initiative, and thus, “King’s Wheels” was born. While this program is still running, there is a downside to these student-inspired initiatives. Oftentimes, when the first student to run the program graduates, there is no one with passion comparable to the first to replace this student.
Taking a minute to reflect upon the now learned structure of the KUCSC, the LYAC councillors prepared to answer the question: what does the LYAC do? One councillor clearly stated that the LYAC provides a voice for London youth by communicating with their ward’s corresponding city councillors and politicians. For example, many councillors will attend political meetings that most students and London youths would not sit on themselves. Many councillors agreed that traditional political systems often ignore young people. In response to this, the LYAC strives to integrate itself within the political community so that these ignored voices have some kind of presence in politics.
Despite this however, there is no formal relationship between councillors and the corresponding city councillors of their respective wards. The LYAC is a separate not for profit organization. This doesn’t mean however that LYAC and city councillors are mutually unaware of one another. There is some kind of relationship as they often need to communicate with each other, but this relationship is subjective to the LYAC councillor and the city councillor – they are all different. After hearing this, one of the KUCSC representatives notice that the LYAC appears to have considerable autonomy in terms of what they can do as a group. Since they are not accountable to any paid, political professionals, they’re free to represent the youth of their ward in whatever way they think is adequate.
Later in the conversation, the councillor’s discussed what they’re able to do with this autonomy. One example of this was the Kraft Play Project started by one former council member a few years back. It began with a former member noticing that young people had stopped playing at a set of degenerating basketball courts in the White Oaks area. As a result, this neighbourhood was losing a key community “hub”. Long story short, the court was entered into the Kraft Project Play competition and ended up being a finalist winning $25,000 for improvements. Today, this councillor is continuing his work by forming youth groups, and trying to figure out the next steps for change in this area. What’s key about this story is that the work was continued past his yearly term as councillor. That’s what’s so good about the LYAC’s setup – councillors are able to continue their projects past their term, there isn’t a time limit.
Stemming off this, it was clear that one key difference between the KUCSC and the LYAC was how it represents its people. For example, since the KUCSC is run by students for students, they have a direct link to those who are voting them into their positions. The LYAC on the other hand covers all of London. The councillors admitted that because their target demographic is so broad they have a harder time connecting with London youth in their wards. The KUCSC by comparison has this direct link to its students; they’re able to communicate with them, finding out how they feel about their leadership, what’s working, what’s not etc. Despite having a clear link to its student body, the President of the KUCSC did discuss how difficult it is to try and make sure an entire body of student’s best interest are maintained – especially when you have your own opinions and biases. He claimed that the best way to do this is just through a good effort, by trying to be as general as possible, in other words: doing the best for as many people as possible. This is vastly different with the LYAC. One councillor explained that through his position, he is not speaking on behalf of the youth in his ward. He’s never referred to it in this way because he doesn’t think that his opinions mirror the opinions of those in his ward. He likes to believe that with the LYAC he can say what he thinks, and therefore, his thoughts cannot be attributed to however many youths he’s “representing”.
KUCSC vs. LYAC Meetings
Later on in the conversation, the group discussed the differences in meeting structure among both the KUCSC and the LYAC. The KUCSC representatives explained that their meetings are very formal despite being student politics, and this formalization increased this year with new rules and procedures. They also don’t just have different types of meetings. For example, general meetings usually involve larger, more symbolic topics. They also involve motions and subcommittees which are reviewed a week prior to the meeting. Every 3-5 weeks, commissioners and representatives attend meetings to vote on motions, agendas and reports. Only a few of these attendees however have voting privileges. The representatives from the council explained that as the KUCSC is much larger group than the LYAC, they require a more “official” approach to accommodate everyone involved. They did however make a connection between the style of their sub committees and the LYAC. For instance, sub committee meetings are more conversation based like the LYAC. These meetings are used to work out smaller committees before large forums. In essence, this is where all the work happens.
When asked “what do LYAC meetings look like?” one councillor almost immediately answered with “organic discussion”. In other words, LYAC meetings are relatively unstructured allowing for participants and councillors to foster discussion based on whatever they’re thinking or feeling. Councillors sit in a circle, an idea taken from a Youth Advocacy Document called “Feathers of Hope”. This was essentially an Indigenous youth plan for a “talking circle” that would help nurture discussion. Before this, the LYAC started out with Robert’s Rules, passing motions… chairs… but it was all too formal. In addition, meetings were once a month, whereas today they’re weekly. Everything was changed after one meeting where the conversation wasn’t going anywhere. Councillors started just sitting on the floor and talking. In the end, councillors, and staff realized that they had just had the most productive meeting they had in a long time – just by sitting on the floor.
All councillors agreed that the KUCSC couldn’t adopt their more informal, circle, conversationalist style with the number of people they have in their council. In addition, the LYAC mostly discusses what they find to be “hot topics”, and their discussions don’t often need to meet a consensus. KUCSC however, have to meet and make a final decision on certain things.
Whereas the KUCSC has different meetings, the LYAC has different styles of meetings. From general weekly meetings, councillor led, field trips and the park, there are many different ways in which the LYAC meets. Aside from meetings, the LYAC does have projects and committees formed within it – it’s not always just a discussion, they also do things. These committees though aren’t really “committees” in the way that committees are for the KUCSC. There’s a different language within the LYAC. It’s informal, almost “sneaky” in its structure. One councillor admitted that they did experiment with committees last year and frankly, they ended up doing nothing. “We should have made a committee to figure that out”, they joked. This aside represented the more casual nature of the LYAC – councillors are able to laugh at their informality.
If councillors are interested in something, they go out and do it. They’re supported by the LYAC staff, but they still have so much autonomy in terms of what they want to do in their position. An example of this is the councillor project involving low income recreation subsidies. This councillor became interested in this, and therefore often meets with different people within the city to learn more about this issue. What’s working, what isn’t and what can be done.
Campaigning Experiences with the KUCSC vs. the LYAC
One of the group participants asked everyone to recall what their experiences were like campaigning for both the KUCSC and the LYAC. There were a lot of different perspectives and experiences between both councils.
“I honestly didn’t try” is how this discussion began. Of course everyone had a laugh, many probably feeling the same way about their own campaigning experiences. This participant said he of course did the typical social media, and talked with people but he mostly just chilled in King’s Student Life Center. Looking back, he’d really wish he’d tried harder. It’s not like he didn’t want the position, but he’d had another opportunity at the time, so campaigning and the all over position on the KUCSC wasn’t a priority at the time. In the end, he received 12% of the student body vote, which he thought probably would have been higher if he’d tried a little more. He assured everyone that now that he was in the position, he put in necessary effort. When asked if he hadn’t run against anyone else, he said he had and that they must have put in even less effort than himself. He did say (brutally honestly) however, that a lot of student government races are pure popularity, and that probably gave him an edge over the competition. In general, he was surprised by this outcome, but he thought it was because affiliates appear to be more engaged with their student government than Western’s Main Campus.
The other representative from the KUCSC had a bit of a different experience as no one ran against him. He therefore did some minimal campaigning, nothing “too wild” he said, but if someone had been running against him, he probably would have done more. Pausing for a bit he said frankly that “campaigning is horrible”. While campaigning, it seems that people’s main goal is to find faults in their opponent’s platform. He suggested that it’s concerning if people don’t campaign too hard as it shows that if they’re not willing to put in the initial effort, they’re probably not willing to put in effort through the actual position. He jokingly said that this was a weird statement to make for someone who really didn’t put a lot of effort in, but campaigning really does weed out the people who aren’t going to do much after they’re elected.
One councillor immediately spoke up and told the group of how she honestly didn’t like campaigning. Mostly, she didn’t like the feeling of trying to sell herself to get a vote. As a result, she only went door-to-door to “about two houses” and used social media sparingly. This councillor said that she would have preferred to have had a debate or visited a public function and network because that’s where her skillsets lie. Likewise, another councillor agreed that campaigning wasn’t her favourite thing to do. It’s so different in terms of “council things,” she continued. Campaigning, in her opinion, uses a different set of skills than what’s usually necessary at an LYAC meeting. Half-jokingly, she suggested that while campaigning, candidates should have to go through a “mock council meeting” to show how one would really perform within the position. Similarly, the incoming Western Councillor claimed not that her experience was negative, but that the ways in which people chose to vote were. After we found out that two group members in just this room alone voted for this particular councillor because they saw her name on a ballot, she was a little disheartened. She really thought that her opponent, who’d obviously lost, really put in more effort. She concluded by stating that she just wished people were more informed about the LYAC and its practices, and what a councillor and Western Councillor did before voting.
This particular councillor’s experience started a side-conversation on the difference between campaigning for the USC, the KUCSC and the LYAC. One councillor expressed that while she was at one of the affiliates, she always just voted for whomever for the USC because she felt that it didn’t really affect her. Councillors then asked whether or not the Western campaign results more directly affect the campus. Of course, you can’t talk about Western as a social system without bringing up the infamous “Western Bubble”, and the group wondered whether or not this bubble would have more of an impact on students than other LYAC councillors would. In essence, there’s probably more of a connect between Western and the USC than between councillors and the entirety of London. One councillor stemmed off this by saying that it was probably better to have 70 votes from a London ward from people you’ve connected with rather than 2,000 from people who just liked your name. She kind of backtracked a bit after this comment, reassuring herself, the group, and the other Western councillor that it’s not like neither of them made, or won’t make an impact on the Western community, it’s just not the same as door-to-door canvassing
Connecting with your ward is helpful in the LYAC election process. It’s an online, constantly updated process. This means that whoever is running gets an update for the first four days of the campaign as to how they’re doing in the polls. One group member described it as a “training program”, allowing candidates to see what’s working in their approach and what’s not. Connecting with people within your ward just helps you in the long run. You’ll be better able to understand the issues or problems of the youth. In addition, you’ll make people more aware of the election process and the more people you connect with means you’ll likely be more successful.
“Memorable Moments” From the KUCSC and LYAC Members
“Memorable Moments”: KUCSC
As there were only three representatives from the KUCSC, and one happened to also be an LYAC councillor, there was a small amount of moments from this group. One councillor was very general in his answer. He told everyone that he was the USC rep for the KUCSC, and therefore through this he got to meet a lot of interesting people, and have much different experiences than a typical KUCSC member. For example, he’s met with city councillors, and was involved with London Transit issues. In all, he’s really excited to see how King’s and the city can become more involved with one another.
One member shared a story from the beginning of the year. Two executives from the team were about to be removed because they were taking 5.0 credits when KUCSC members are only to take 4.0. One was an international student and the other had come later in the year filling the position after she’d selected courses and was unable to change her academic schedule at that time. The representative said he’d spent weeks trying to make sure they could stay on council. He said he really enjoyed this despite the fact that it exposed some institutional issues with the way the system was run. He said that he knew trying to help these members was the right thing to do as in his opinion, “just because something’s a rule doesn’t make it right”. In the end, he said the situation was “half-fixed”, but he’s hopeful that significant change in the situation is on the horizon.
“Memorable Moments”: LYAC
Since there were significantly more LYAC members present at this meeting than KUCSC meetings, there were a lot of positive and valuable ways councillors answered this question. There were also several themes and similar answers given.
The first councillor to answer started off very generally by stating that she enjoyed the people and the conversations they have. A lot of councillors agreed with this, nodding their heads and contributing their own similar stories and moments. Another councillor agreed by saying what she most enjoyed and found most memorable about the LYAC is when they had meetings with passionate discussions. Examples of meetings in which the discussion was passionate were the meeting at city hall, and the discussion on the committee for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration. The incoming Western councillor cited the 150th of Canada conversation as another one of her most memorable moments, despite only being with the council for a month and a half. She said that that particular conversation was interesting as it allowed for everyone to listen to and experience other takes on what it means to be Canadian.
In going along with this theme of positive and passionate discussion, a meeting that was brought up a couple of times was the meeting on Carding. The first to bring this up seemed really passionate about how this meeting went down. She laughed as she discussed the “questioning of authority” aspect to this meeting – especially when she stopped everything and firmly stated “we need to talk about how this is racist.” The same meeting was described by another councillor as the first time he felt important people actually cared about what himself and the council had to say.
This conversation was honestly filled with some really great personal stories, and it was hard to only focus on a few. The first one came up when discussing both the KUCSC and the LYAC members’ favourite moments from their time on each council. This particular councillor was explaining the LYAC’s “letter of recognition process”. Essentially, these letters are to be sent out from councillors to someone in their community they’ve noticed doing something commendable. This councillor however received a letter from another councillor in the LYAC. The councillor who had sent this letter was fortunately present at this meeting and explained the reasoning behind her actions. She said she’s noticed this particular councillor had been going through a busy and stressful month, and wanted to recognize that her hard work had not gone unnoticed. She jokingly stressed that she didn’t want to write to a random little kid in her ward saying something relatively insincere like, “good job on your math test”. She continued by saying that it’s a lot nicer when something like this is personal, from someone who you interact with often. Likewise, the councillor who had began telling this story turned to the letter writer and said that she had really appreciated this letter – it was just so nice to see that councillors recognize each other’s work, and personal growth.
Next, this next story came from a member of the KUCSC while thanking the LYAC for holding this meeting with them. Honestly, this story is less a story than an interesting fact, but the KUCSC president closed the meeting by telling the LYAC members that the KUCSC was inspired by LYAC focus groups and decided to implement this practice within their council. Since then, academic reps are responsible for holding two focus groups per year. By the end of the year, the out going and in coming reps hold one together, as a sort of transition between the two representatives. This story formed a really nice, solid, ending connection between these two groups that are obviously very different, but still share some key similarities.
This last story was told by an LYAC staff member after being asked why the LYAC doesn’t try for more promotion for their council through media. The answer for this was that media was expensive, and the budget didn’t really allow for extravagant media spending, although one staff member said she’d heard about the LYAC through the newspaper. Actually, her mother had encouraged her after she’d found out through the local paper. This staff member said that she recalled “seeing Matt’s face in the newspaper” before making her decision. She laughed at this method of reaching out to candidates, but explained that by using traditional media to reach out to youth, you’re really still accessing the parents. Parents are the “gatekeepers” of print media, and therefore only a few candidates are reached in this manner.
How this conversation would be different had it taken place with the USC, the Huron or Brescia councils? Or all of them?
Are King’s students aware of, and comfortable coming to the KUCSC with their suggestions and concerns? Are youth of London similarly able to access the LYAC?
How are student and youth councils like the KUCSC able to attract who are less inclined to be involved in their school community? Those who are “in and out of class” per se?
If LYAC members actually represented the opinion of those in their wards, would more effective change be achieved?
Throughout the discussion, I noticed that everyone was relatively engaged. This seemed to stem from some members of the LYAC and the KUCSC already knowing each other, and just that both groups already had something in common: their councils. Unsurprisingly members on youth councils discussing other youth councils makes for a well-engaged discussion. It was essentially a meeting for insight into other methods of running these councils. It was interesting for myself, someone who is not involved in student government, and is not an LYAC councillor to see the stark differences in methods. Not only that, but how the methods of one group would just not work for another. For example, since KUCSC executive positions are often paid with student funds, they need to ensure that they have a strict process with which they follow in order to provide the best possible student government for King’s. The LYAC on the other hand is voluntary and therefore, they’re freer to discuss issues they’re passionate about and are not required to take much formal action on things that are directly impactful to a body of young people.
In general, this topic was relatively easy to discuss. It was basically a learning experience for both groups and therefore there wasn’t much that was or could be said to offend anyone. Actually, in the roughly 5-6 LYAC meetings and focus groups I’ve sat in on, this was definitely the least controversial. Not that meetings are ever extremely controversial in their subject matter, but there have been topics discussed in which councillors or participants have spoken about something I know myself and others definitely did not agree with. I think because this conversation was so mellow that it really allowed for an established relationship to be formed between these two councils. It was kind of a nice promotional tool – both groups really expressed their goals and ambitions and actions within the KUCSC and the LYAC so well that I almost considered joining my own school’s government!
With that said, I did think the conversation focused a bit too much on the LYAC. Of course I understand that the number of LYAC members did significantly outnumber those on the KUCSC. Just through looking back on my own notes of the conversation however, I just don’t have a lot of information for what the KUCSC discussed – and I am a very attentive listener, I swear! The meeting was of course supposed to be a mutual discussion between these two similar councils, I just think that the LYAC already knows about itself, and maybe there should have been a heavier focus on what the KUCSC does, and how aspects from their council could be used in the LYAC’s proceedings.
For once, I didn’t have much of a personal connection to this topic. As I’ve stated more than necessary throughout this section, I am not involved in my student’s government. I did vote, but I honestly chose random names. After this conversation however, I realized just how important it is to be informed. Especially after I admitted to the group that I voted in the USC elections based on whose name sounded the best. I regretted it immediately as I knew it made me sound like an ill-informed-oaf, whose contributions were detrimental to the entire philosophy of democracy. Nonetheless, I really wasn’t ashamed of my voting-selection process. I thought it was actually kind of funny. I was literally so uneducated about what was going on within my university that I just voted for people with “cool” names. I think not only is this kind of a funny anecdote, but it speaks to issues within the school government system. I’ve been around for three USC elections and this is the first one I even thought about voting for. I couldn’t even tell you at what time in the year they take place. Why? I really don’t think they’re made out to be a big enough deal. I’m a full-time student who spends at least 5 days a week on campus and I’ve never seen any demonstrations etc., for the elections. I really think this affects the perception of student government among students. Especially in this day in age with the revival of the human rights battle and political correctness, it would seem that students would want to be involved in the process that decides how their school government would be run; but the school does not do enough to engage students. We’re told that it’s important that we vote but we’re not given enough opportunity to learn. What choice do we have, then to go by someone whose name sounds cool?
What We Still Need to Learn
Better ways to promote student government and LYAC elections
How different/similar the LYAC and a larger student government like USC are
Better ways to make campaigning a more positive experience
Whether or not voters pay attention to the campaigning efforts of if it’s all luck and a popularity contest